Today we read about a parent’s worst nightmare. Mary and Joseph’s Son went missing! I lost my oldest son once for several hours, and I’m here to tell you, that is NOT an experience I EVER want to repeat. It still chills me to the bone when I think back on that experience. I doubt Mary and Joseph ever forgot that experience with Jesus either.
Joseph is a righteous man. He faithfully follows the laws of God and takes his family every year for the Passover celebration in Jerusalem. I wonder if he brought his family to the celebrations when they were living in Egypt. Did he consider it too dangerous? It probably would have been if the people in Bethlehem had told about the young boy the magi had visited.
Back to today’s story. Mary and Joseph came to Jerusalem with a large group of family and acquaintances. It was always safest and easiest to travel in groups. Their group was so big that not everyone was within sight at all times. So when they all set out for their trip home, neither Mary nor Joseph thought it strange that they didn’t see Jesus. He was probably told when the group was going to be leaving and was expected to be there on time. Jesus was also approaching Jewish society’s age of manhood. Jesus was twelve years old that trip. One more year and He would be of legal age.
What does that mean, “legal age?” In Jewish society when a boy turns 13 (or a girl turns 12) they are considered an adult. They are able to enter into binding contracts, to participate in leading services, to testify before religious courts, to marry and most importantly to take on the responsibility for their own sins. Before reaching this age, the father was responsible for the sins of the children. They were encouraged to lead a life conforming to the commandments but were not obligated to do so. On their 13th (or 12th for girls) they were then obligated to follow all the commandments and take responsibility for their own sins, before God and man.
For Jesus, this was His last year of, shall we say, grace. So when He didn’t arrive at the meeting place and join the family as they left Jerusalem, it was not a sin for Him to carry. I honestly don’t believe it was a willful disobedience on Jesus’ part either. I think He probably got so carried away with the interactions in the temple that He forgot about everything else. When He finally realized what time it was, His family had already left Jerusalem, thinking He was with them. For His own safety and ease of reconnecting with His parents, He stayed in the temple and continued interacting with the teachers. He was not hiding, but waiting in the most obvious place He knew.
When night came and Mary and Joseph went looking for Jesus they were astounded that He wasn’t with the group. He had never disobeyed them in His life. They knew something was wrong immediately. I sure the left the other children in care of relatives and hurried back to Jerusalem as fast as they could go.
They had traveled a day out from Jerusalem and it took them a day to get back. Their Son, whom God Himself had entrusted to them, was now absent from them for two days! I’m certain they discussed where they should look for Him on the way back, but the temple didn’t enter into their minds. I wonder where they looked instead.
When my child was missing I searched every route I thought he could have possibly taken. I dismissed one route that he might have taken after a short distance. I thought he would have recognized that the streets on that route were way bigger than the ones we routinely traveled. Of course that turned out to be the route he actually took. After some time, he did recognize that he was lost and stopped for help. Not before I had exhausted every possible option on my own and conjured up more ways for him to be taken or killed than any mother can handle. I finally found him in our home, after the police had brought him there while I was frantically searching. The relief I experienced at finding him safe and sound brought me to my knees.
It took them another whole day to find Him. When they decided to check out the temple, there He sat. With the teachers, asking intelligent questions and giving insight of His own! He wasn’t curled up in some corner scared about being left behind. He wasn’t frantically searching for them. He was calmly enjoying the company of the best teachers Israel had to offer.
Mary and Joseph probably experienced the same emotions I did that day. Mary asked Jesus a very interesting question. “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for You in great distress” (verse 48). Jesus’ answer didn’t really answer her question. “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house” (verse 49).
Mary is saying, “You worried us SO much! We had no idea where You were or what You were doing. We thought something bad must have happened to You. What made You miss our departure?”
Jesus reply said, “I stayed in the most obvious place. I thought you would easily find Me here. After all, this is My true Father’s house.”
As soon as the relief settled in, they all went home to Nazareth. I don’t know if their traveling group waited for them to return or if they traveled on their own back to Nazareth. Jesus was submissive to His earthly parents, at least from that time on. We are also told that He continued to increase in wisdom, height, and in favor with God and man.
I bet God was smiling during His interactions with the teachers, even while His earthly parents were frantic. He knew Jesus was safe and that His earthly parents would reunite with Him. But this was a time for Jesus to begin to show His depth of knowledge. I wonder if any of these teachers were involved in His crucifixion twenty one years later. Did they remember the young boy in the temple? Did they realize it was the same person? Did any of them try and help Him?
We know for a fact that Mary never forgot this day. Luke says, “His mother treasured up all these things in her heart” (verse 51). I don’t think the memory of Him being lost was a treasure but it found a safe place in her memory. The “treasure” was His commitment to the teachings of God that He would spend three days discussing His questions with the teachers. Did He ever explain how they got separated to her? Did He apologize for worrying her? It wasn’t sin, His missing them, but did He ask for their forgiveness anyway?
Father God, I know Jesus loved His earthly mother, otherwise He wouldn’t have made provisions for her while He was on the cross. I’m sure He regretted worrying her that day. Thank You for sharing this story with us. You showed us a little peek into Jesus’ childhood. Because of the law and the age of accountability, did other things happen in Jesus’ childhood that would have been laid on Joseph’s account? Is there an age of accountability in regards to salvation? What happens when a child dies before understanding Your plan of salvation? Jesus said to let the little children come to Him because the Kingdom of Heaven belonged to such as them. I wish I knew Your hard and fast rules, or if You even have hard an fast rules in this area.
Thank You for bringing my son home that day. I’m certain Mary prayed that same thanks. Please bring him home again. Back to Your Heavenly family home. He has wandered far and I don’t know how to each him. I trust You to bring him because of Your promises. Please bring his sons along with him.